Controversery marrs Kostunica's visit to Bosnia

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The Independent Online

President Vojislav Kostunica is making the first trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina by a Yugoslav head of state since the outbreak of war eight years ago.

President Vojislav Kostunica is making the first trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina by a Yugoslav head of state since the outbreak of war eight years ago.

But his visit has strained ethnic sensitivities even before it began.

Kostunica, who succeeded Slobodan Milosevic on Oct. 7, accepted an invitation by Bosnian Serb Deputy President Mirko Sarovic to attend the reburial Sunday of Serb poet Jovan Ducic, who died in 1943 in the United States.

Sarovic is a member of the party founded by Radovan Karadzic, the most wanted suspect indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague for atrocities allegedly committed against Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

In Sarajevo, the Bosnian Foreign Ministry expressed outrage that Kostunica's first visit to the country would be to the Serb-ruled part of Bosnia rather than the capital. Even though Kostunica is attending the reburial privately, the Bosnian government believed it signaled that Kostunica had not fully accepted the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The international authorities who administer Bosnia under the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement also appeared concerned.

The chief administrator, Wolfgang Petritsch, visited Kostunica in Belgrade on Friday and urged him to improve relations with Bosnia and other countries that seceded from Yugoslavia in the last decade, triggering years of ethnic warfare.

On Saturday, Petritsch's office announced that following the reburial, Kostunica would fly aboard a U.N. helicopter for an "official visit" to Sarajevo. The schedule calls for him to spend less than an hour in the Bosnian capital and meet the country's three-member collective presidency at the airport.

Kostunica's token appearance in a city that Bosnian Serb forces shelled for years is unlikely to assuage concerns of the Bosnian and international authorities, who have accused the Bosnian Serbs of not living up to the goals of Dayton for a multiethnic, unified state.

The ceremony takes place three weeks before national elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and extremist Bosnian Serb political parties appear to be using the reburial to heighten Serb nationalism.

All key members of the Bosnian Serb government and political parties are expected to attend the services, including some who have never abandoned the goal of full Bosnian Serb independence.

Karadzic's wife Ljiljana attended the beginning of the two-day ceremony Saturday.

Ducic is to be interred at a church in Trebinje, his hometown. The church was built with his money from his personal fortune. At his instructions, the church was modeled after a Serbian Orthodox Church monastery in Kosovo, from which Serb forces were driven last year after the NATO bombing campaign.

Kostunica, a Serb nationalist, strongly opposed the bombing campaign and has urged the United Nations to speed the return of Serbs who fled reprisal attacks by the ethnic Albanian majority.

The Bosnia-born Ducic earned fame as a diplomat and renowned poet of the first half of the 20th century, He was educated in Switzerland and moved in 1906 to Belgrade, then capital of the kingdom of Serbia. Ducic served as a diplomat in several European capitals.

He moved to the United States when World War II broke out, intensely lobbying against Communist guerrillas who were gaining the upper hand in his homeland. He died in 1943, and his works were under virtual ban for years in postwar Yugoslavia.

At the end of his life, he considered Yugoslavia an "unnatural creation, bad for Croats and disastrous for Serbs." At the end of his life, he fell out with almost all Western governments over their acceptance of Yugoslav's longtime Communist leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito.